South Africa's Steven Kitshoff during the press conference [Source: Reuters]
South Africa and Ireland have met once at international level since 2017, but despite the surprisingly infrequent duels, there will be plenty of familiarity among the teams in their Pool B showdown in the Rugby World Cup in Paris on Sunday morning.
The entry of South African clubs into what was then called the Pro 14, now United Rugby Championship, has seen them battle Ulster, Munster, Connacht and Leinster for the crown over the past two seasons.
Added to that, Jean Kleyn and RG Snyman are a Munster second row that will be on the Springboks’ bench, while Duane Vermeulen, not in the match-day 23, has spent the last few years at Ulster.
South Africa’s director of rugby Rassie Erasmus and head coach Jacques Nienaber have both previously worked at Munster and the latter is joining Leinster at the end of the World Cup.
“I think the United Rugby Championship has been brilliant, especially for us South African teams, getting a lot of experience playing against guys at Ulster, Munster and Leinster, trying to figure out how to get victories against strong Irish teams,” Bok prop Steven Kitshoff, who will play for Ulster next season, told reporters on Friday. “I think we understand the mentality.”
Not surprisingly, Kitshoff is talking up the set-piece as a key battle-ground and he will come up against Ireland’s highly-rated Tadhg Furlong in the front row of the scrum.
“Tadhg is an exceptional player – good scrummager, great ball carrier, good on defence. It’s going to be a tough battle,” Kitshoff said. “For us to have a full go at them, we all have to be on par, our pack and the guys off the bench.
“In big games like this, if your set-piece doesn’t function you are on the back foot, but we have trained hard since we got together in the pre-season camps, trying to improve our scrummage, so we are looking forward to the challenge.”
The eagerly-anticipated fixture is likely to decide the winner of Pool B.
“Both sides have a lot to play for. For us, we have to make sure we perform well and keep the momentum gained during the first couple of games,” Kitshoff added.
“Anything can happen on the night, the team that pitches up the most desperate and willing to work for those extra bits will come away victorious. It’s going to be a close game.”